TEACHER SHORTAGE: A CONCERNING MATTER

Pascale Abadie, OFLA Recruitment and Retention Chair
Associate Professor, Wright State University

It has been more and more challenging to recruit teachers and professors alike; fewer students choose the teaching path, and a job that was once seen as rewarding and fulfilling has become less attractive over the last decade or so. The main reason for this decline might be that parents would rather not have their children choose a career that has inadequate pay and benefits along with a drastic change in students’ behaviors and lack of discipline. Because the profession is more challenging, it has become less desirable to potential candidates. A job that was seen as respected or valued in our society has lost its sheen over the years. Widespread teacher strikes over the United States over low salary and lack of resources for classrooms are not helping the recruiting process for teachers. Not to mention the legitimate after effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Research has shown a 35 percent decline in teacher ed enrollments, highlighting that the teacher shortage problem is very worrisome. According to the National Education Association, schools are facing a shortage of 300,000 teachers and staff across the U.S. 

The main reasons for becoming a teacher have always been highlighted by (but not restricted to the following):

  1. the impact educators have on the lives of children or young adults
  2. the family-friendly work schedule, such as long vacations
  3. the opportunity to continue one’s own education (master or Ph.D.)
  4. the contribution to one’s community
  5. the use of one’s creativity
  6. the chance to change the future
  7. the challenges, such as incorporating technology …

As appealing as those points may seem, this is not what motivates young people today anymore. So, we could ask ourselves the question of what is motivating students when they choose a career? Choosing a career is a lifelong process, “Career choice implies that individuals have gone through a decision-making process, that they have surveyed the work field, have assessed their competencies, have some understanding of what brings a sense of fulfillment and have examined alternatives, and the likely effect of these alternatives on their self-concept”. Even though altruistic motivations (points 1 and 4) play an important role in decision making for a career, extrinsic motivations (Salary, work climate …) are also present in their minds, and as I mentioned the latter seems to be taking over.

To the question: Why do you enjoy teaching? Teachers’ answers are more often than not the same: 

  1. Responsibility and duty towards students
  2. To inspire and motivate students for life
  3. Helping students to become the best they can be. 

These points were definitely the main reasons why I, among many others, decided to become a professor. So, why is “making a real difference in children’s life” not sufficient anymore to bring students to choose teaching as a career? “They will do it for the kids” doesn’t seem to motivate anymore. It seems that today’s challenges in the classroom overcome the positives of making a difference. States may need to reconsider salaries, training, and university costs. How can we have student loans of $50,000 when the average salary for teachers is $40,000? Training, particularly in mental health, is also something that should be looked at as schools are now lacking nurses, counselors or school psychologists, and finally work conditions seem to play an important role in the decision making.  

Concerned with the shortage of teachers in the U.S., and particularly language teachers, many of us, teachers and professors, have asked ourselves how to share not only our love for teaching but also the many reasons why we are thriving and growing in our profession. Teaching a language is not just teaching how to speak it but how to understand and learn about a different culture other than our own; an important tool in today’s world. We desperately need to continue to offer languages in schools but in order to do so (which is altogether another battle) we need to have teachers! Recruiting students in high school and university is a challenge that we have to tackle sooner rather than later. But how to do it, is a question that so far, has been difficult to answer…